Time Lags and Time Warps

Three years — that’s how long it seems to take: At least from a gut feeling, I’d say that it’s more or less three years for your research work to find its way to your academic colleagues. That is, if you are not in the tiny league of scholars whose every step (and mishap) is more or less instantaneously taken up in academia.

I was forced to reflect on this time lag when a scholar of Art history contacted me with regard to my work on protest movements, masks and identity politics that still figures as my postdoctoral research projectWe had met and talked briefly at a conference a few years ago, and then I eventually steered out of cultural studies and into higher education studies.

For almost five years now, I haven’t been active in researching protest movements, and for almost three years , I haven’t published anything on this subject. Still, occasional inquiries come in regarding my research, and this was one of them.

The colleague was writing an article on masks in the context of protests, remembered me and got into an e-mail conversation. He kindly sent me his article draft to comment on, which I did, and which brought about further e-mail comments from his side (the article has been published this year under the title Democracy and Masks. Towards an Iconology of the Faceless Crowd).

All this spiralled me back three or four years to the discussions and topics of that era. It really felt like a Rocky Horror Picture Show time warp. On the one hand, it was great to dive back into it again, especially as the article in question approaches this topic from an angle that was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, I felt that some of the points touched upon in the article and some of the rather optimistic ideas regarding masks were something I had safely left behind.

Anyway, so it’s been roughly three years. Two years for some good publications to come out of your research, and one year to be read by a small amount of people in the loop to give you feedback on it or get back to you with further ideas. With an average contract of three years in German academia, this means that what happened to me might well have happened to a large set of scholars before: Just when you start to lift off with a new research topic, you are forced to find another topic somewhere else. And when you have settled in a bit, you are approached by your past, but are not up to date anymore. That’s the genius of capitalist human ressource allocation, I suppose.


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